Research/Study Research/Study

The Fox Primary: 18 Potential Candidates Have Already Made More Than 800 Appearances

Rand Paul Is Winning The Fox Primary

  • Since President Obama's second inauguration, Sen. Rand Paul has appeared 119 times on Fox News' evening and primetime programming and Fox News Sunday, far outpacing the other declared and likely Republican presidential candidates not employed by the network. On the other end of the spectrum, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has appeared on the programs studied only three times.

    Among the potential candidates that were on Fox News' payroll for all or part of the duration of this study, Fox News contributor John Bolton has made 171 appearances, more often than Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson -- who were both dropped by the network over their presidential aspirations -- combined.

    When Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced last month that he is seeking the Republican 2016 presidential nomination, his first TV interview, unsurprisingly, was a full hour on Sean Hannity's show. The same night, Rand Paul (and perennial fake presidential candidate Donald Trump) appeared on Megyn Kelly's show to react to Cruz's announcement and discuss their own presidential aspirations.

    Paul followed Cruz's lead by appearing in an “exclusive” interview on Hannity's Fox program Tuesday, hours after announcing the start of his own campaign.

    While the first presidential primary is about nine months away, Cruz's and Paul's competing appearances provide a glimpse into what is becoming an election tradition. For the past two years, a slew of Republican would-be presidential candidates have been involved in The Fox Primary, making regular appearances to curry favor with the network's influential hosts and reach out directly to the channel's decidedly conservative audience.

    In a February piece for The Hill, Fox News contributor and former congressman John LeBoutillier argued that “the key to winning the 2016 GOP presidential nomination is winning the 'Fox Primary.'” Touting the importance of coverage from Fox News for Republican contenders trying to court primary voters, LeBoutillier claimed, “The Fox primary is crucial to any GOP candidate.” According to LeBoutillier, “The competition just to get on these shows will be intense.”

    The Fox Primary is nothing new. In the run-up to the 2012 election, Republican contenders also jockeyed for Fox News airtime. New York Times reporter Alessandra Stanley pointed out at the time that “Fox News practically owns and operates” the Iowa primary: “its viewers are seeing the world through the eyes of a Tea Party activist in Davenport, or a small business leader in Ames -- my own private Iowa.”

    Though the presidential campaign is just kicking into gear, eighteen declared and potential Republican candidates have already made a combined 804 appearances on Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Kelly File, Hannity, and Fox News Sunday. 

    Many of the would-be candidates have regularly been introduced to viewers as potential 2016 contenders and have been given a prominent platform to sell themselves and criticize likely Republican primary opponents and potential Democratic nomination frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

    Greta Van Susteren's show featured by far the most appearances from the stable of potential and declared candidates (313), though the number is inflated due to Fox News contributor John Bolton's 143 appearances on the show. The potential 2016 contenders have made a combined 152 appearances on Hannity's show.

    During a February appearance at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Hannity vowed, “On both my radio and television program on the Fox News Channel I promise you this: As somebody who has not made up his mind, I am going to give access to every single solitary candidate as often as I can, as often as they'll come. By the end of the process, I will ask them every question I can possibly think of.”

    In the past twenty-six months, Paul has appeared twice as often as any other candidate on Hannity's show. Most of the would-be candidates have appeared at least several times with Hannity, with the notable exceptions of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee, neither of whom have been on his program in the past twenty-six months:

    Individual data and analysis for each of the candidates are below.

    Jeb Bush

    Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is currently leading in several polls of likely Republican presidential candidates, has a “talk radio problem” according to both Politico and The Washington Postas he's faced fervent criticism from prominent conservative radio hosts like Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh.

    His apparent reluctance to engage with talk radio blowhards has seemingly extended to his stance towards Fox News. On the programs studied, Bush has made a mere three appearances in the past twenty-six months:

    Hannity at least seems open to helping Bush smooth things over with his conservative detractors. In Bush's appearance on Hannity as part of the Fox host's CPAC interview series, Hannity explained, “Some people 'boo' when I mentioned your name. I want to give you a chance to talk about your record directly to the people here at CPAC.” Bush responded by touting how he had applied “conservative principles” during his time as Florida governor, helping to create “a record of accomplishment, of getting things done.”

    While he has largely avoided Fox's evening, primetime, and Sunday programming, Bush has made occasional appearances elsewhere on the network. In 2014, Bush was interviewed by Fox News anchor Shannon Bream as part of an event at his father's presidential library, clips of which were aired across the network for weeks. 

    Rand Paul

    Apart from John Bolton, who has worked for Fox News as a contributor during the entire duration of this study, Sen. Paul has been the most frequent presence on Fox News' evening and primetime programming and Fox News Sunday:

    In an article for the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa explained how Paul has seemed “to stray from [his] libertarian roots” as he tries to win the favor of the Republican base. Paul's libertarian leanings have caused friction with the Fox News world before. In November 2013, Politico reported that Paul met with both Fox News chief Roger Ailes and News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch in part to “smooth concerns among Republicans and influencers about whether he shares his famous libertarian father's views on issues like national security.”

    Fox News has provided Paul with ample opportunity to make himself more well-known and agreeable to the Republican base, as he's been a near-constant fixture on the network's evening and primetime programming since Obama's second inauguration.

    During a March 24 appearance on Hannity -- the night after Cruz spent the full hour with the conservative host the day he announced his run -- Hannity promised Paul, “when you announce, we'll give you an hour on this program.” During the March 24 interview, Paul explained to viewers that while he and Cruz are “from the same wing of the party” and both “very conservative” senators “who support the Constitution,” people need to “look for nuances of difference between the two, and one of those might be winnability.” He boasted, “When you look at polling right now, you'll find that nobody in the Republican Party does better against Hillary Clinton than myself.”

    Scott Walker

    Fox News figures have been showering Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with praise for years. Walker made 21 appearances on the shows studied:

    During a January appearance on Hannity's show, Hannity touted how Walker has won several recent elections “in a blue state,” adding, “I know you have a record that's impressive, as well.”

    After Hannity asked Walker what it will take for him to jump into the presidential race, Walker plugged the website of his new political group Our American Revival -- which is designed to “help him travel and raise money as he prepares for a potential White House bid” -- before telling viewers, “The ideas that are going to transform America aren't coming from people in Washington, they're coming from our state leaders.”

    Later in the interview, Hannity explained that he's “looking for a conservative leader with a bold, inspiring agenda that's going to solve problems for the country, the debt, deficit. I want to be energy independent. I want our border secure. I want school choice.”

    Walker responded by claiming, “all the things you've just mentioned, I promoted in the state of Wisconsin.”

    Chris Christie

    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has had a complicated relationship with Fox News. For years, Fox News figures fawned over him as a “hero” and a “national sensation.” Fox News chief Roger Ailes reportedly “fell hard” for Christie and unsuccessfully tried to get him to enter the 2012 presidential race. Things took a turn after Christie was photographed embracing President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which prompted accusations that he cost Romney the election.

    Since then, the network has done its part to help bury the George Washington Bridge closing scandal, but the days of Christie being Fox News' favorite Republican seem to be in the rearview mirror.

    Christie has appeared on the shows studied only five times since January 2013:

    Ted Cruz

    There's a reason Ted Cruz spent an hour on Sean Hannity's show the day he announced his candidacy. As Bloomberg's David Weigel explained, Hannity's radio and TV shows are “to Republicans what a warm log cabin is to the weary traveler--a place for a respite and relief from the harsh elements outside.” During the softball interview, “Hannity spoke as if the only criticisms of Cruz were prima facie ridiculous.”

    The kid gloves treatment from Hannity was nothing new -- it was Cruz's 27th appearance on the show since Obama's second inauguration. He made 65 appearances across all the programs studied:

    Rick Santorum

    During his unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, former Sen. Rick Santorum credited his prior employment at Fox News with having “been big” because it “helped folks remember who I am.” Santorum later criticized the network during the primary itself, telling Fox News host Brian Kilmeade that Fox News was “schilling for [Romney] every day.”

    After he lost the nomination fight, Santorum was not rehired by Fox, so he enters the 2016 primary fight without a consistent platform on the network. Nonetheless, despite his harsh criticism of the network's 2012 coverage, Santorum has made 38 appearances on Fox News' evening and primetime programming:

    Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, And John Bolton: The Fox Candidates

    In the run-up to the 2012 election, Fox employed five people who were openly considering a presidential run while on the network's payroll. Fox once again employs -- or did employ -- several potential Republican candidates this cycle.

    Ben Carson's prominence in politics is due in large part to the boosterism from his Fox News colleagues, who started aggressively promoting the idea of a Carson presidential bid shortly after he criticized President Obama during a 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. After bolstering his political standing, the network hired him in October 2013 and continued to regularly tout his potential candidacy in appearances. Fox News dropped him as a contributor in November 2014 due to his likely pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination.

    Carson made 47 appearances on the shows studied:

    Former Arkanas Governor Mike Huckabee also used his Fox News platform to bolster his political aspirations. During a visit to Iowa last October, Huckabee told Real Clear Politics that his Fox News job has helped boost his standing among activists in the state: “When I came up here eight years ago, nobody knew who I was...I had to spell my name. They didn't recognize me, and that was true all over the country. And now I come back, and I've been in these people's homes every week.”

    Huckabee's most important platform at the network -- his now-defunct weekly show Huckabee -- is not in the Nexis database and was not included for this study. Even leaving out his weekly hosting duties, Huckabee was a regular presence on Fox News' airwaves, making 81 appearances on the shows studied:

    Former UN ambassador and Fox News contributor John Bolton made 171 appearances on Fox News' evening and primetime programming. The vast majority of his appearances were on On The Record, where he is regularly hosted to criticize the Obama administration's foreign policy. Bolton's supposed presidential aspirations are a rare topic of conversation during his appearances on the network.

    Donald Trump

    Real estate mogul and reality show host Donald Trump pretends to run for president every four years, and this cycle is no different (Trump claims, of course, that he's very serious about it this time). Trump made 48 appearances on the show's studied, more than half of which were on Greta Van Susteren's show:

    His supposed presidential aspirations were a frequent topic of conversation, starting a month after the beginning of President Obama's second term, when Van Susteren asked him, “Are you interested in running in 2016?” In another interview she asked Trump if he was actually serious about running or whether he likes “to mess with our heads in the media.” Trump used the opportunity to discuss how great he is: 

    VAN SUSTEREN: I was asked the other day, because people obviously see that I interview you often, whether or not I thought that you were serious about running. And I said my guess is every day Donald Trump wakes up and thinks, I could do bigger and better deals than anybody else and so that you're tempted. But there's also a part where you like to mess with our heads in the media and you like to play us. Am I half right or part right on all of this?

    TRUMP: I don't like to mess with anyone's heads. I do think I can make fabulous deals for the country. I think I could make the country great again. I think I could make the country rich again.

    Though the majority of his appearances were on On The Record, Trump has also received favorable coverage of his interest in being president from Sean Hannity, who told the reality show host last October, “You might run for president and you could be elected. Nice independent guy with common sense.” When Bill O'Reilly asked Trump on March 31 who he likes “in the Republican sweepstakes,” Trump responded, “I think Donald Trump. I think Donald Trump is the best by far.”

    Trump also made multiple appearances to discuss the “50-50” chance he might run for governor of New York, which he also did not do.

    Marco Rubio

    Though several personalities at Fox News bristled at Florida Senator Marco Rubio's temporary support for immigration reform, he has been the recipient of several years of friendly coverage from the network, which announced after his 2010 CPAC speech that “A Political Star Is Born.” Rubio's 60 appearances were spread out -- he is the only candidate to have appeared on all eight programs included in this study:

    If Rubio fails to gain traction as a presidential candidate, Fox News figures are already pushing the idea that he'd fit in well as a vice presidential candidate. Neil Cavuto told Rubio in March, “With almost any one of those other guys, save Jeb Bush, you would be a perfect running mate.”

    Rick Perry

    Rick Perry, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in 2012, made 33 appearances on the shows studied:

    Perry has worked to assure viewers that his ill-fated 2012 effort won't be repeated in 2016. Megyn Kelly told Perry in January that “the first time out it didn't go so well for you. What would be different this time?” Perry responded, “Well, I think obviously the people have seen in the last 24 months that this is a pretty different individual than they saw back in 2011, 2012. And, you know, back surgery's over with and the preparation's been done for the last 24 months.” Asked by Kelly if he feels “more polished,” Perry offered, “Not only feel more polished, I feel substantially more prepared.”

    John Kasich

    Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich has a long history with Fox News. After serving several terms in Congress, he spent eight years at the network -- including prominent platforms like regularly serving as guest host of The O'Reilly Factor -- before leaving Fox to run for governor.

    If Fox News' coverage of his runs for governor are any indication, should Kasich decide to run for president, he can likely look forward to extremely sympathetic coverage from his former colleagues. Kasich made 11 appearances on the programs studied:

    Fox News contributor John LeBoutillier wrote that if Kasich does run, Fox would “accord him very favorable coverage. Why? Because Kasich used to host shows on Fox -- and rumor has it that Sir Rupert Murdoch likes him.”

    Lindsey Graham

    South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has recently suggested he may enter the presidential race. For years, Graham has been a regular presence on Greta Van Susteren's show, where he has made 46 appearances over the past 26 months. Graham made 72 appearances across all the shows studied:

    Unlike several of the other candidates, Graham's status as a possible presidential candidate only became a topic of conversation in more recent appearances. During a February appearance on Your World, host Neil Cavuto told Graham that Sen. John McCain has been “very aggressively pushing your candidacy for president” based on Graham's “no-nonsense stance” when it comes to foreign policy. Graham happily took the opening and made his pitch to Fox News viewers, saying, “I have been to the Mideast more times than I can count. I understand the lay of the land, and I desire to win. And sometimes it takes leading to win. And leading from behind gets a lot of people killed. And I`m not going to be that kind of leader.”

    George Pataki

    Former New York Governor George Pataki, who is reportedly looking into a presidential run, made only three appearances on the shows studied:

    Pataki has made other appearances on the network, however, including a February appearance on America's Newsroom where he tried to stoke interest in his possible presidential bid.

    Carly Fiorina

    Former Hewlett Packard CEO and failed California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina has made seven appearances on the shows studied:

    Fiorina's recent discussions of a possible presidential run have seemingly increased Fox News' interest in hosting her: six of her seven appearances have come in the past three months. Introducing a Fiorina appearance in February, Megyn Kelly pondered whether she is “the dark horse in this GOP race.”

    Bobby Jindal

    Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has made eighteen appearances on the shows studied, though seven of his appearances have come since the beginning of this year:

    Mike Pence

    Indiana Governor Mike Pence made only two appearances on the shows studied, both on Fox News Sunday:

    Charts by Oliver Willis. Eric Hananoki and Oliver Willis contributed research to this report.  


    Media Matters searched the Nexis database for appearances by the eighteen potential candidates on Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Five, Special Report, Hannity, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, and Fox News Sunday since January 21, 2013. Appearances as part of special coverage -- including 2014 live midterm election coverage and special coverage of things like President Obama's State of the Union Address -- were excluded from the study.